Addressing disability in the workplace
There are various ways that employers can make the workplace a more welcoming and inclusive environment for people who live with a disability.
Life-changing examples could include:
- ramps for wheelchair users
- hearing loops for colleagues who use hearing aids
- closed-captioning of events and meetings
There are no simple, off-the-shelf solutions. The first step is always to start an ongoing conversation. Begin by considering what would improve the working environment for disabled employees. You can also consider your organisation's processes and policies.
A given, not an afterthought
Don’t expect individual team members to have all the answers, even when it comes to their own needs. For instance, until someone has worked in a particular role, they may not know what adjustments might be helpful.
Perceptions are important, too. Mark Hodgkinson, Chief Executive of Scope believes,
“Inclusion should be a given and seen as something for everyone, not an afterthought.
“Embedding inclusion in your organisation’s ethos avoids the need to retrofit adjustments into the workplace and helps to build a healthier and happier workplace and culture for everyone.”
Providing tailored support for people with a disability can be complex and challenging. Disability affects people of all sexes, ages and ethnicities. It takes many different forms, has multiple causes and may change over a person’s lifetime.
It can be visible or less visible, may require a wide range of care and support, and it has a broad spectrum of impacts.
The Equality Act defines disability as someone having a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities.1
The Equality Act requires employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to prevent anyone with a disability being disadvantaged.
It is illegal to discriminate against a disabled person on a range of employment issues. But, there are also benefits to disability inclusion, particularly when it comes to recruiting, developing and retaining talent.
But Mark says,
“Despite increased awareness of this as a business issue, there is a significant gap between workplace equality for disabled people and those without a disability."
The latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) data shows that:
“This gap has narrowed a little from the pre-pandemic figures, but progress is still painfully slow.4 As employers we all have a responsibility to help shift perceptions of disability across society and address this inequality."
“Employers who act to make workplaces more inclusive for people with disabilities will benefit from new perspectives, talents and skills – while also boosting productivity and benefitting the bottom line."
Sarah goes on to say,
“The inequality and daily indignities disabled people face can’t be fixed by changing a corporate lanyard or adding a logo to your website. It needs practical support such as ramps and lifts that always work, special aids and equipment, and adaptations to the working environment.”
A YouGov poll of 1,000 Britons living with disability reveals the current disconnect between what should happen, and what is happening.5
The most common challenges were:
When they do, over nine in ten disabled employees who ask for reasonable adjustments to be made report that all (60%) or some (33%) of their requests are actioned.
Yet research by the Business Disability Forum (BDF), found:
Support makes a difference
Despite these barriers, the BDF research shows the right support can make a big difference for both workers and organisations.
The demand for this sort of support is increasing. The proportion of the UK population living with a disability has risen by three percentage points in a decade.
Data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows this is being driven by an increased prevalence of mental health conditions.6 Psychiatric conditions account for four-fifths of the rise in claims for disability benefits over the past 20 years.6
Dr Naveen says,
“The 2023 Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey is now underway, and it will be interesting to see what else has changed as a result of the pandemic, the shift to hybrid working and increased awareness around disability issues.”
1 GOV.UK, date unknown.
2 nomis. Annual population survey, Oct 2021 to Sept 2022 % 16-64 EA core or work-limiting disabled % of this group in employment, total % of 16-64 in employment
3 Office for National Statistics, 2022.
4 nomis. Annual population survey, Oct 2021 to Sept 2022 % 16-64 EA core or work-limiting disabled % of this group in employment, total % of 16-64 in employment. Compared to Oct 2018-2019 figures: 54.2% of disabled people in work compared to 75.6%
5 YouGov, 2020.
6 UK Parliament, 2022.